It's Administrative Professionals Week! Do You Have What It Took to Be a Secretary in the 1950s?


Did you know that it's Administrative Professionals Week? In honor of the occasion, the National Archives’ Text Message blog unearthed this vintage gem: A quiz from the 1950s geared towards determining whether or not you are top-notch secretary material. Like many fossils from this era (and particularly those pertaining to gender roles), it is, in a word, hilarious.

The quiz is divided up into 25 questions; give yourself four points for every “yes” and (presumably, since it’s not otherwise noted) zero points for every “no.” If you score at least 80 out of a possible 100 points, then congratulations! You would make an excellent 1950s secretary! I scored a measly 52 points, so despite my not-inconsiderable organizational skills, I would apparently make a terrible 1950s secretary. I suspect this is because I am a horrible misanthrope and I hate people. Here, give it a try for yourself:

How'd you do?

In 1950, the number one job for women in America was “secretary” — a fact that is, according to the post on Text Message, somewhat astonishingly still true today. The U.S. Census reports that of the 4 million Americans today who identify themselves as secretaries or something similar, 96 percent of them are women. I find this kind of interesting, especially in light of articles like this Business Week one from roughly a year ago, “Where Have All the Secretaries Gone?” Thanks to Mad Men, an awful lot of attention has been drawn in recent years to how secretaries of the ‘50s and ‘60s stack up to the modern-day counterparts; the article claimed that “as a result of changing technology and cost-cutting, assistants are disappearing from corporate life, along with their cousins, executive assistants, office managers, and clerks.” I’m not totally convinced this is true, though; instead, what’s happening is all those roles are getting rolled up into one awful position.

The dreaded “combo job” (see: Save the Assistants by Lilit Marcus, who I had the pleasure of working with when I first got into this crazy writing business). usually has one job description when you’re interviewing and another once you start working. They’re entry-level positions, and the poor, underpaid employees who hold them come aboard thinking they’re going to be a receptionist, only to discover on day one that they’re going to be a receptionist and someone’s assistant. The result is that they’re working two full-time jobs for what would be a pittance for one. The secretary hasn’t gone away; neither has the assistant. They’ve just morphed a little bit, though probably not for the better.

But hey, if Peggy Olson could launch herself out of the secretarial pool and into the big time way back then, it stands to reason that we should be able to do the same thing now, right?

Images:AMC; Ladylike/Blogspot; Text Message/National Archives